O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 4 July 1999

Tirana 4 July 1999

Some things I wasn't able to write about yesterday, as the diary entry had already become very long. I learned yesterday for example how all the different AFOR groups where called. Most of them are simply using a practical, understandable name like "taskgroup west" and "taskgroup north", but of course you have groups of AFOR (NATO) which are called things like "Shining Hope", the Americans, or the "Hawks", the helicopter group, and even "Romeo", the Dutch/Belgian/Italian transport group (the Dutch have now gone). About the Dutch I forgot to tell that it is the only army which is not allowed to drink any alcohol, they have to stay without beer and everything for the three months that they are here. Most of the soldiers really didn't like that, but if they were spotted with a beer they'd be put on the first plane home.

The messages of destruction coming out of Kosov@ make clear that at least 50% of all the schools is destroyed. Most of them had been used by the Serbian Troops as HQ`s. And it is a big question if they will be restored in time for the next school season starting in September. So all in all the kids in Kosov@ won't just have lost the last season, but also the next one it seems. Unless a big action takes place in the next two months to get the place rebuilt.

At this moment there are an estimated 155.000 refugees still in Albania, that means that 350.000 have left in the last two weeks. Another 100.000 are expected to leave next week. How could anybody expect that over 450.000 could be returning within three weeks to a country where food, water and medical supplies are not guaranteed. That hasn't happened in history before. Where all these people have to go to is unclear. This evening we will have a meeting with all our volunteers to see what we will do. This is not going to be an easy meeting. But I hope that we can come up with a strategy for the coming days and weeks.

How can you describe a country you're a guest in without sometimes crossing the line of what you can say to a host a little, when someone of the hosts is around? This may sound a bit strange, but what I want to say is that it is often hard not to offend somebody, but still make a newcomer aware of what is going on. This starts with small things, like explaining that the trainline between Milot and Rreshen which is on the map doesn't exist anymore because people just took parts of the railway tracks away to build vineyards with it, up to the stupid mentality behind not working and still earning money. I know that John, our translator, is often hurt in some ways by the way volunteers are talking about his country. He is a proud person and hasn't seen the world outside of Albania yet. His logic comes from what is normal here and for him it's hard with all these foreigners around who explain each other, especially the ones who are already here some weeks to the newcomers, how different this country is from the reality at home and often come close to the limit of what you can say. But John (not his real name, but we call him so, because his Albanian name is imposible to learn) has changed so much in the last seven weeks that he now accepts it.

I think this is the most important thing that can happen to this country, bringing in people who have a kind of honest ignorance about them concerning Albania and talk freely about their experiences here. Since I think that normalisation starts with international contacts. Exchange of realities between different countries. In the Sunflower house in Tirana there are now about 15 volunteers (real volunteers, not volunteers like here in Albania, who are working for local NGOs and making a living that way), and they are discussing all the time with each other, most have arrived in the last two days and are totally surprised with what they see.

And it is surprising, today I wanted to take some rest, just a sunday, but forget it. The morning started with the message that the truck we sent off yesterday hadn't reached the way station in Rreshen yet. And even for a slow driving truck that trip is only four or five hours. On such a moment I am trying to figure out what I can do and in fact I can't do anything except from waiting until that truck turns up. Communications are so hard in this country.

The next phonecall by sat phone came from Puke, also a way station, they seem to have a very hard time up there. The way station leader there seems to have said that they are not really needed anymore and that they should leave, although the UNICEF people I talked to yesterday were very glad with our presence there. When describing the situation they more or less said that most of the waystations were actually a succes because of the Balkan Sunflowers, since they were involved in almost everything. How do you put two and two together? The volunteers who have returned from refugee camps and way stations are starting to laugh when you tell these stories. Most of them have now experienced the reality and have really lost a lot of their respect for the big organisations. But that isn't changing the situation much.

From Shemri I got a message by satphone too - and by the way we figured out that you can phone with a satphone, but that you can't be phoned on them, at least not from Albania - that everything is going ok there. The only message they were giving is that CARE told them that the way stations are going to be closed in the next coming one and a half week. I sometimes get this feeling that those big organisations don't really know what they are doing. Just a few days ago UNHCR said that the way stations have to be there at least for another two months, since by the rate of 3000 refugees per day it would take that long. Now they are saying that they want to close them down just like that. If you are following the information as closely as I am, being here in this country you think seriously about what you have to believe of what they are telling you.

In many ways I am happy that we reacted so quickly and that Sunflowers were on all the way stations directly after they were opened. We promised to be there and we were there, and that's not what most organisations can say. Even though we don't have our own transport and millions of dollars behind us, we basically do the same thing as the locals do, transporting our people with minibuses through the country. And all of this has been such an eyeopener to a lot of people who came here to help via us that they noticed that they have believed in structures who can get their act together. It is maybe negative writing, bringing down the belief people have, but lets be real. If somebody, some organisation ever is going to evaluate the situation here and what has been done, it won't be so easy to hide all the rotten fish which have been left over here.

That means that I'd really like to see once what the big organisation have invested in this crisis and what came out of it. And I want to know in a way how you can use those resources a little better. I am glad I don't have to do that explaining. In this "exercise", as they always call a crisis in UN terms, there was money like water. The world was looking over the NATO's shoulder and suddenly the money started to flow, at least to the bigger organisations (when we started the money flow was already drying up a little :-( ). So much money in such a short period has never been given before, at least not very regularly. Since most big organisations had money as water they also spent it like that. This was one of the reasons why Albania became so expensive suddenly and why some people here in Albania made so much money during this crisis. And that influenced the whole situation here. It also explains a bit that the coordination was so bad, every organisation could do it more or less on its own. Seen from the organisations' point of view there was, in other words, no need for cooperation. This is different in other emergency situations where the need for cooperation is huge, since the available money is limited. By the way it is not a law that when there is not much money organisations work better together.

This afternoon I made a long walk through Tirana, to see all the places where there were refugees in the last months. The swimming pool is nearly cleaned up completely, you can hardly see that 5000 refugees have been living here almost three months. It is clean now and not so smelly anymore. Within a week Tirana will have its swimming pool back again, it looks like nothing ever happened here. The Olympia camp is still there, which means the pre-fab buildings are still there, but the people have all gone. The plan was to move the buildings with the people, but the people didn't want to wait until the greeks were ready for it. They just wanted to leave the country, not in two or three weeks' time, but yesterday.

Also the park next to the former refugee centers was by far not as full anymore as it was in the last months. This was one of this meeting places for all the refugees here in Tirana on sundays (and on other days for that matter, since what is the difference between sundays and saturdays when you are a refugee). It is every day sunday or every day a free day. Not for me though, tonight we had a big discussion if, how and when we are going also to Kosov@, we will continue it tomorrow. Most people are really ready to go, since all the contacts we made in the last months are there as well. We will see which surprises tomorrow will give us.

wam :-)

ps the truck driver we had organized, or lets say the Saudi's organized for us, yesterday, changed everything he was paid for to do. He just refused to stop at any place and drove straight up to Shemri. I asked around a bit whether this was considered normal - are truck drivers doing such things? And the people from Albania I asked all said "Yes" and apologised immediately for it.

wam :-)